That critique was justified but there is the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Ideas must be looked at from their own internal strength and coherence and not necessarily from where they originate. This, however, is not to disregard issues of democratic participation and the question of power in the generation of ideas. There should be a difference between setting an agenda for popular discussion and debate and pushing that agenda onto a passive populace. Agendas must ideally, become blueprints and visions only after an exhaustive public debate and some degree of consensus.
The point is that there have been too many overlapping development plans, their non-implementation because of lack of political will or resources and sometimes due to sheer opposition from those who call the shots - the so-called development partners. And finally, it points to their competing and contradictory nature. Some of those plans ended up being transformed or merged with others, thus leading to new ones and so the game of preparing Africa for its proper place under the sun continues infinitely.
There is yet another subtle aspect about plans, visions and initiatives that is less recognised, especially in positivist scholarship, for plans are usually used as a way of demarcating boundaries and framing the way problems and issues are thought about. It is a process of excluding alternatives which are sometimes not acceptable to those drawing up the plans. Because one is in a sense saying: this is the way we should think and ultimately proffer solutions to this or that problem. And in certain instances, especially those plans that are couched in futuristic terms, they serve to postpone problems and thus ease demands on the political system at least for a while - Namibia’s Vision 2030 is a case in point.
Thus Nepad must be seen in that light. Like its predecessors, for example, it metamorphosed from the merger of the Millennium Africa Recovery Plan and the Omega plan - leading to the New African Initiative (NAI) and eventually to Nepad. So, the fundamental question is whether Nepad will succeed where others failed. Before venturing to tackling this question, one has to spell out very briefly what Nepad is. “This New Partnership for Africa’s Development is a pledge by African leaders based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and sustainable development and at the same time to participate actively in the world economy”.
A number of aspects are immediately discernible from this statement. These are:
1. The emphasis on African ownership of Nepad and the role and responsibilities of leaders to see the plan through.
2. Second is the commitment to forging a new partnership with the West and international financial institutions (IFIs).
3. Third, there has been talk of creating an enabling environment by minimising conflict through the promotion of good governance, macroeconomic stability, maintaining transparency and accountability in both the public and private realms.
These elements are seen as the right mix for pursuing the Nepad development agenda, which include, inter alia, social and economic regeneration of the continent, poverty reduction and economic empowerment of the people. And like many other plans before it, Nepad was also premised on sectoral strategies.
One doesn’t want to pour cold water onto the continent’s child for development. But looking back, Nepad is likely to flounder like many of the previous plans. First of all, there is basically nothing new in Nepad which has not been encapsulated in the previous plans before it. In fact, some like the Lagos Plan of Action or the Revised Framework referred to earlier on, were more ‘African’ and more ‘radical’ as they put added emphasis on self-reliance, self-sustainability, democratisation of the development process and finally, a fair and just distribution of the fruits of development through the progressive eradication of unemployment and widespread poverty.
None of these radical agendas were implemented as they were resisted and eventually jettisoned. Instead, we ended up on the West/World Bank’s favourite agenda: structural adjustment programmes that partly contributed to problems in Zimbabwe. It will really take a great leap of faith to assume that Nepad will succeed.